Seven Years After Katrina, New Orleans Still Struggles to Rebuild

Destroyed buildings and overgrown weeds are seen from Flood St. looking toward Caffin St. in New Orleans, August 25, 2011.
Destroyed buildings and overgrown weeds are seen from Flood St. looking toward Caffin St. in New Orleans, August 25, 2011.
Tala Hadavi

On August 29, 2005, over a 12-hour period, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf coast of the United States with winds up up to 233 kilometers per hour [145mph] - killing more than 1,700 people and displacing hundreds of thousands. Seven years later, residents of the area still are struggling to rebuild. And while the effects of the storm remain evident, there also are some striking improvements.  

In the aftermath of Katrina, the city of New Orleans was in ruins. One hundred twenty of the city’s 200,000 homes were destroyed. Eighty percent of the city was flooded.

“It wasn’t the hurricane that destroyed the city. It was the collapse of its levees,” said John Bigounet, who writes books and plays about the hurricane and its aftermath. He blames the disaster on problems with the flood-protection system.

“You could see the flood line. And it was clear that the water hadn’t come over the top of the levees. Instead that they had collapsed from the bottom. The reason that they collapsed from the bottom was that not enough steel was used," said Bigounet.

Fourteen billion dollars has now been spent to re-build the flood-protection system. Billions of dollars more have been spent on re-developing other parts of the city. But photographer Frank Relle, who has been documenting the city's recovery, said the results so far have been mixed.

“You have a new library that’s being built right here. But at the same time you have individuals that are struggling to rebuild. This house was knocked off its foundation by Katrina. Still got photographs on the floor. This is someone’s birth certificate,” said Relle.

Right after the disaster, many young professionals moved to New Orleans to help rebuild. Many decided to stay, including urban developer Milo Deamgan.    

“This is an interesting time to be in New Orleans. A lot of different urban work is going on, a lot of different policy work is going on, and you have kind of passed that point of recovery. They call it resiliency now. And doing a lot more long-term strategic planning,” said Deamgan.

Bigounet said New Orleans now has less poverty than before, but that’s because many poor people simply could not afford to return.

“The city is a bit richer, a bit younger and a bit whiter than it was before the flood. The city is in flux right now. And because of that many people carry the scars of what they’ve been through in the last six years,” said Deamgan.

Relle said that's now the story of the city.

“As a documentary photographer, it’s sometimes strange that you need a disaster to have a voice heard," he said. "But really for me the reason why I wanted to do the work that I wanted to do, was to talk about difficult things, but also to give people hope and awareness.”

“I think like everyone who is writing about this, or photographing it, or painting it or writing songs about it, its changed who we are," said Bigounet. "We certainly have, I certainly have a different understanding of loss than I did before. I think the other thing that happened to us is that there’s a greater sense of compassion in those who survived.”

Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans forever. It erased large parts of the city and those that have been rebuilt still have a long way to go. But a new city is starting to emerge.

“This was a place where my wife and I thought we could make the most difference in the world,” said Ben Jordan, a recent resident.

It's a city whose new and returning residents have a similar vision for its future.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Lee Sung Chul
April 05, 2012 12:11 PM
No matter how dark or hopeless the circumstances of your life may become, there is always hope to be found in God.

by: Paul Harris
April 04, 2012 5:06 AM
I'm glad you conveyed that it was the levee failures that led to most of the death and destruction in the city of New Orleans. They couldn't withstand a Cat.3 storm which points directly at an "unnatural" disaster vs. the natural disaster it was for the Mississippi Gulf Coats.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs